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The Church that is Always Emerging

God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself. 2 Corinthians 5:19

Do you feel the depth of that statement? Can I recommend that you stop now and read 2 Corinthians 5, or at least verses 11-21 before you continue this?

I often think that we Christians don’t nearly get the meaning of this passage, which is one of the better scriptural expressions of the meaning of the incarnation that we have in scripture. But then it goes on to bring it home to us, by saying that God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.

To parphrase a question I was once asked after a sermon: If this is the message that we were given at the start, whatever happened to Christianity? Why do we have such a terrible time getting along? Why have we had such a long history of persecuting one another? We easily forget that we are a religion that results from the ministry of a man who spent his time breaking up traditional ground, who found extraordinary ways to make God’s message and God’s kingdom have an impact on a world that was not anxious to receive it. More than 2,000 years alter, we act a bit more like warring tribes protecting our precious doctrinal turf from the heretics down the street, often from people whose positions can only be distinguished from our own by theological experts.

Enter the emerging church. I’ve not really spent much time on the emerging church, though I’ve read a couple of books and have generally liked what I see. I think part of my problem is that I’ve never called myself an evangelical, and so I don’t quite full feel the issues and the call that they do. Nonetheless I have felt that the movement was a good one for Christianity.

Via MSNBC I found a Washington Post story on Brian McLaren, a leader in this emerging church movement. The article is titled Evangelical pastor challenges tradition. The emerging church movement does indeed challenge tradition. It tries to make the message of Jesus relevant to the modern world. And while I often wonder about some of their doctrinal positions, which sometimes are to my left even though they use the term evagelical and I don’t, they have one thing that is very traditional: Challenging tradition.

What’s more traditional than doing what Jesus did? Some of the criticisms sound very much like the criticisms of Jesus. Emergent people don’t teach enough doctrine. They’re giving up the basics. They’re question non-negotiable doctrines. But of course we’ve been negotiating these doctrines for centuries, with some of the current basics being quite recent in their current incarnation. At other times we’ve been negotiating such doctrines with the stake and torture implements.

It’s a conversation. That’s what the emergent church people say. And I agree. The one thing that has to continue is the conversation. It’s a conversation between various Christians, churches, groups, and ministries. It’s also a continuing conversation between each Christian and God. It’s also a conversation between us and the world. I would suggest that the greatest thing we can do as Christians is get other people listening to God–listening to the Spirit of Truth. We think that teaching them a set of doctrines is going to give meaning to their life, but there are thousands, probably millions of people who live in quiet despair with an evangelical theology.

It’s not the fault of the evangelical theology. There are also many Christians who live fulfilled lives with an evangelical theology. The problem is that any theology that doesn’t get you into the big conversation is still going to leave you dead.

Thank God for the emergent church. The church ought to always be emerging. It can’t be any harder than Jesus, emerging from heaven, and coming to earth.

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  1. Todd M says:

    I have sort of flip-flopped on my thoughts of the energing church. At points I have been more critical than I should have been but, overall, any engagement of people into meaningful conversation about their lives and spirituality should be good. I like your take on this.

  2. Daniel Payne says:

    Thanks for your post. As a self-identifying emergent conversationalist (wow! the labels get longer all the time), I would not really classify everyone in the movement as evangelical. I am certainly not, nor do I think are most emergent-types. In fact, in so cherishing conversation, we tend to be more like mainline Christians with an extra squirt of zeal~


  3. Daniel,

    I have increasingly felt that the label “evangelical” was losing a good deal of its meaning. That’s one of the reasons for expanding labels. Now “conservative evangelical” seems to mean what “evangelical” used to.


    I think the continued conversation and search is important. When we stop thinking and conversing about what we believe, we can no longer correct errors. Thus while I sometimes disagree with McLaren, for example, I generally think he’s pushing buttons that needed to be pushed.

    Thanks for your comments!

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